Graded on a Curve: Destoyer,
Streethawk: A Seduction

I first fell head over heels in love with Destroyer (aka Dan Bejar) the first time I heard his 2006 LP Destroyer’s Rubies and its song “A Dangerous Woman Up to a Point.” In particular I fell in love with its lines “Have I told you lately that I love you?/Did I fail to mention there’s a sword hanging above you?/That those who love Zeppelin will soon betray Floyd?”

Those lines are rubies indeed, and he casts similar pearls before swine on the more than thirty albums he’s released since 1996, including 2001’s Streethawk: A Seduction. In a fey voice Bejar delivers a hyper-literate, stream-of-consciousness torrent of words that are as opaque as they are exhilarating. Think the swirling surrealistic lyrics conjured up by mid-sixties Bob Dylan as delivered by some flamboyant glam rock star of your imagination and you’ll be almost there. Except you won’t.. Destroyer is as utterly unique as he is hypnotizing—you’ll search for the likes of him in vain.

Bejar’s albums vary from the electric to the acoustic, and on Streethawk: A Seduction you get a bit of both. You also get lots of excellent piano and organ, starting with the manic opening track “Streethawk I,” which includes a stellar piano solo and his usual verbal helter skelter: “Streethawk tempts the huntress/Let the girls go insane!/As we lay down our weapons and sure enough/We are slain by that stuff.” The lyrics doesn’t rhyme and I have my suspicions they’re not intended to make a lick of sense. But sometimes, in the words of infamous cult leader and jailhouse philosopher Charles Manson, “No sense makes sense.”

“The Bad Arts” is more characteristic–it begins on a slow acoustic note, then goes into an uncharacteristic funk mode that includes the wonderful lines “Why did you spend the ’90s cowering?” before an electric guitar comes climbing in and Bejar sings, “The world woke up one day to proclaim/”Thou shalt not make or take part in the bad arts.”/You see, the singer sold us out/The guitarist lost his clout on Life-Of-The-Mind Day.” And just as you’re saying “What’s that now?” a bomb goes off and Destroyer takes the song out on a long sing-along that goes “You’ve got the spirit (don’t lose the feeling).”

“Beggars Might Ride” opens with solo acoustic guitar before going full band and picking up tempo, and is chockful of jarring lines such as the openers “Beggars might ride you into doing one thing/When humiliation gets taught/And humility does not have the ability to move a muscle/Don’t do The Hustle” and subsequent mind-bogglers like “Hey, Distro. King for the Hearing Impaired/I’m starting to think I know why you were spared/Paradise felt fine, what’s yours was mine/Collaborators fuck us every time.”

“The Sublimation Hour” is an electric tour de force, and finds Bejar delivering lines like “Don’t spend your life conceiving/That the widows won’t get sick of their grieving/’Till everyone walks out/Hey, isn’t that what rock ‘n’ roll is all about, Princess?” And he’s not done confounding us with rock and roll when he later sings, “So put your hands together!/I hear it’s a must/Until this phony Beatlemania has bitten the dust/It’s alright… The Sublimation Hour!”

The piano-based “English Music” closes with the wonderful lines, “And write your English Music/Though you know it will come to no good/When brilliance has a taste for suffering/And you’re softer than the western world.” What does it mean? I’ll be damned if I know. The pretty “Virgin with a Memory” includes lines like “Was it the movie or the making of ‘”Fitzcarraldo”/Where someone learned to love again?” and “She wanted blood, all she got was sacrifice,” while on the galloping “The Very Modern Dance” a manic Bejar can’t get his words out fast enough. Lines jump out at you—”So, there’ll be moonlight over Michelle tonight,” he sings, as well as my favorites, “You can look, you can touch but no, not that much/What’s one more police action when I’m cancelling the truce again?”

“The Crossover” features a shuffling drum beat and is as hard a rocker as any you’ll find on the album–the guitar twists and turns, piano and organ add color, and all the while Destroyer contributes lines like “Tread lightly through the fog,” said the Apothecary’s daughter/You don’t want to go, but you gotta, into the half-light of dawn” as the song builds to a climax. Bejar picks acoustic guitar notes and a flute comes in on “Helena,” which sounds like a love song but could well be a denunciation against the Land of the Free what with lines like “It’s a drag, the way your flag/Had to come down with one of the above/America, so ferociously in bloom” and the even more puzzling “And this one goes out, just like the one before/To the 17th version of “How I Won the War”/Oh, first Destroyer and now the Underground.”

The mystery is characteristically deep on the Pavement-like “Farrar, Straus & Giroux (Sea of Tears). “Farrar, Straus & Giroux is a book publisher, which so far as I can tell has nothing to do with lines like “No man has ever hung at the temporary age of 24/Both feet on the floor.” And the piano takeout is pure bliss. “Strike” also opens with piano, and Bejar takes things slow until the song explodes into stereophonic sound and he chants “Strike!” over and over until the piano fadeout. Closer “Streethawk II” takes us back to the beginning; Bejar repeats the lines “There oughta be a law/There oughta be a railroad/That takes you away,” before a delicate acoustic guitar and piano shuffle the song off stage.

Once you’ve heard Destroyer there’s no going back, in part because he’ll have you searching for the same secret meanings that people sought in the lyrics of Bob Dylan at his absurdist prime. Bejar’s cryptic and captivating lyrics will have you hanging on every word for the simple reason that you’ll have absolutely no idea what seeming non sequitur he’ll let drop next. No Enigma machine or team of cryptologists could break his code. His lyrics are opaque and indecipherable–the stuff of an oracle delivering inscrutable wisdom in the Kingdom of the Incomprehensible.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A

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